Sexual play between age peers is not sexual abuse. Curiosity about sexual body parts is developmentally appropriate, especially in young and school-age children. Sexual acts are play when spontaneous and brief, not pre-planned, and the children are about the same size and similar in physical strength. and cognitive and emotional development. Sexual play is also play when children have similar understandings of the meanings of their behaviors.
Activities that involve sexual body parts may not be sexual at all for children. They may experience a simple curiosity that arouse no other feelings but surprise and the satisfaction of curiosity or mild tingles that are pleasurable but do not move beyond that. Some children are at first shocked and a bit disgusted when they see the body parts of other children or learn about sexual intercourse. They may think that there own genitals are not that attractive either.
Children’s sexual development begins in the uterus and continues as the mature into teenagers and adults. Boy fetuses have erections and girl fetuses have genital swelling. Infants enjoy touching their genitals. Children begin asking questions about body parts and where babies come from at early ages. Little boys may be fascinated when they get erections.
Children learn which behaviors are appropriate and inappropriate from the adults in their lives. When children masturbate in public, for example, parents teach children to masturbate in private and tell them that such behaviors are private. If children grab other children’s sexual body parts, parents teach them not to do this under any circumstances. If such behaviors persist after parents and/or other adults give children guidelines about these behaviors, consultation with knowledgeable professionals is called for.
Sexuality is a natural part of being alive. Children’s understanding of sexuality depends upon children’s developmental levels and on how other people communicate about sex. When guided by adults who provide age-appropriate information and direction and who behave in sexually appropriate ways themselves, children develop sexually healthy and responsible behaviors and attitudes.
Healthy sexual development includes age-appropriate information about the various aspects of human sexuality, such as the names of sexual body parts starting when children are infants, appropriate and inappropriate behaviors, the various feelings and emotions connected with sexuality, and the many reasons people eventually want to engage in sexual touching and sexual intimacy.
Children whose parents have fostered healthy sexual development may be better prepared to deal with attempts others may make to sexually abuse them. For certain, if someone does abuse them, they are much more likely to tell someone right away than children who do not understand the difference between health and unhealthy sexual behaviors.